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Category: AFC Aces

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Robert Alexander Little
- Australian Fighter Ace -
Rank: Captain
Service: Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Air Force
Squadrons: 1W, 8N (RNAS), 203 (RAF)
Victories:

47

Born: 19 July 1895 Melbourne
Died: 27 May 1918
Place of Death: Near Noeux
Many pilots from Britain's dominions wore the uniform of the Royal Naval Air Service. R A Little was one such, an Australian born in Melbourne, Victoria, on 19 July 1895. He was educated at Camberwell Grammar School from Year 2 until Year 8, after which time he transferred to Scotch College. It is worth remembering that in Melbourne in the early 1900's it was only possible to matriculate from certain schools. Camberwell Grammar only went up to Year 10 at this time. To further his education CAPT Little would have had to have transferred; however, the greatest amount of his school time was spent at Camberwell Grammar. 

When the war started he was desperate to join up and see action before it was all over. When in August 1914 he discovered that there were already 500 applicants at the Point Cook Military Flying School and believing he had little chance of obtaining a entry without a long wait, he decided to sail for England at his own expense.

At a cost of 100 he qualified as a pilot and gained his pilot certificate on October 27 1915 at Hendon. He then immediately enlisted in the RNAS and three months later was commissioned as a probationary Flight Sub-Lieutenant at Eastchurch. He was only 20 at the time.

By June he was at the Naval Air Station at Dunkirk fulfilling the function in France at this time by undertaking reconnaissance along the coast and making attacks on German installations in occupied Belgium.

By Autumn 1916 however the RNAS was being drawn into the land battle further south and had the task of forming the personnel at Dunkirk into fighter squadrons to fight under RFC command. 

Capt R A Little's Decorations. DSO and bar; DSC and bar; French Croix de Guerre and Star. At the bottom is his Scotch College Swimming medal. Thus was born the famous 'Naval Eight' No 8 (Naval) Squadron - on 25 October with Fl Sub-Lt R A Little among its first pilots. He was assigned to "B" Flight under the command of another Australian ace, Stan Goble.

Under Squadron Commander G R Bromet they began with three flights of Nieuport 17s, Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutters and Sopwith Pups but by December it was the first all-Pup squadron in action. Little and his fellow naval pilots were delighted with the new aircraft.

On 11 November, Little made his first kill, an Aviatik C1, while flying a Pup N5182 although most people consider his first kill to have been on the 23rd when he shot down a two seater just north of La Bassee. and by December had claimed two Halberstadts.
On 1 February 1917 Naval Eight handed over its Pups to NO 3 (Naval) Squadron who took their place in the line with the RFC while Naval Eight's personnel went back to Dunkirk to reform with a more formidable fighting machine-the Sopwith Triplane.

At the end of March the squadron flew south to Auchel, on the Third Army Front near Arras. Opposite them at Douai, once the home of Boelcke and Immelmann, was the HQ of Manfred von Richthofen's Albatros DIII-equipped,Jasta II.

While the RFC squadrons with their obsolete equipment were being bloodily mauled, the naval Triplanes at least cowed the Jasta pilots and Little was by now a master of this highly maneuverable machine. 

Flying with another great Australian naval triplane exponent, Fl Cdr C D Booker, he got a Jasta II Albatros over Lens on 7 April. On 24 April he attacked a DFW CV, put a bullet through its oil tank, and then followed its glide down to a field behind the Allied lines. 

The German made a perfect landing but Little's triplane turned over on landing and the German pilot (who had been a Rhodes scholar at Oxford before the war) had to help his notional captor out of the upturned Sopwith, remarking it rather looks as if I shot you down, not me'.

In spite of this humiliation, Little's victory log lengthened throughout May. By the 26th it totalled twenty-eight and by the end of July he had destroyed thirty-seven enemy aircraft. The DSO and Bar to his DSC were gazetted on 11 August 1917 and the Bar to his DSO on 14 September 1917.

In the summer Of 1917 Little was recalled to RNAS Dover for instructional and administrative duties where he tried a new Sopwith Dolphin and a Spad. He could not stay out of the fighting for long, however, and was posted back to Naval Three, soon to become 203 Squadron RAF commanded by Raymond Collishaw.

His appetite for air fighting was insatiable. When not sharpening his eye on the airfield's rabbits with a .22 rifle, he would lead offensive patrols with scant regard for danger. On one occasion he attacked a particularly effective German Flak battery near La Bassee by flying in at 7000 feet, spiralling earthwards in a controlled 'falling leaf spin and finally flattening out at very near ground level to scatter the amazed gunners with machine-gun fire and then hedge-hop home.

On the day Richthofen was killed, 21 April 1918, Little flying a Sopwith Camel picked off the rear-most aircraft in a formation of twelve from Jasta Boelcke. Six avengers turned angrily on Little's Camel and shot his controls away. The aircraft went down to within 100 feet of the ground before flattening out with a jerk. Little, having unstrapped his seat belt against standing orders, was thrown clear as the Camel ploughed into the ground north of the Forest of Nieppe. Two enemy aircraft followed him down to rake the wreck with fire, but Little was out and still fighting, blazing away with his Webley until some British infantry joined in with Lewis guns.

On 28 May Major Booker, Little's comrade from Naval Eight and now Commanding Officer 201 Squadron RAF, was summoned to the scene of a crash where a Camel had come down in the French lines. He got a terrible shock - the pilot still at the controls with a bullet through his heart was Little. The previous evening Little had taken off in Camel B6318 in an attempt to intercept German Gotha bombers making a night raid. It seems that he was killed by one of the Gothas' defensive gunners, while blinded by a searchlight beam, and crashed.

 

He was buried in Wavans cemetery and Australia had lost its foremost fighter pilot. Robert Alexander Little was married in 1916 and left behind a young widow and a baby son.

Left: Robert Alexander Little's wife shortly after they were married.

Captain Robert Alexander LITTLE DSO & Bar, DSC & Bar
COMBAT CLAIMS
Kill Date Type Result Location
1 23/11/1916 Unidentified 2 seater Destroyed La Bassee
2 4/12/1916 Halberstadt D II Out of control Bapaume
3 20/12/1916 Unidentified 2 seater Out of control Fontaine
4 7/1/1917 Albatros D II Out of control Grevillers
5 7/4/1917 Albatros D III Destroyed Lens
6 9/4/1917 Halberstadt D II Out of control Noyelles-Lens
7 21/4/1917 Albatros D III Destroyed Oppy
8 24/4/1917 Aviatik C Captured (shared) Auchel
9 28/4/1917 Unidentified 2 seater Destroyed Oppy
10 29/4/1917 Albatros D III Destroyed (shared) Douai
11 30/4/1917 Albatros D III Out of control E Arras
12 30/4/1917 Albatros D III Out of control E Arras
13 2/5/1917 Albatros D III Out of control Vitry
14 9/5/1917 LVG C Out of control S E Lens
15 9/5/1917 Albatros D III Out of control S E Lens
16 10/5/1917 Albatros D III Out of control Lens
17 18/5/1917 DFW C Destroyed N E Lens
18 18/5/1917 Albatros D III Destroyed N E Lens
19 23/5/1917 Albatros D III Out of control (shared) W Douai
20 25/5/1917 Albatros D III Out of control Quiery la Motte
21 16/6/1917 Unidentified 2 seater Destroyed (shared) Wingles
22 21/6/1917 Albatros D V Destroyed Henin-Lietard
23 26/6/1917 Unidentified 2 seater Destroyed Acheville
24 29/6/1917 Albatros D V Out of control (shared) E Lens
25 3/7/1917 Albatros D V Out of control Lens
26 3/7/1917 Albatros D V Out of control Lens-La Bassee
27 6/7/1917 Unidentified 2 seater Destroyed N Izel
28 10/7/1917 Albatros D V Out of control Fampoux
29 12/7/1917 Albatros D V Out of control Vitry-Drocourt-Queant
30 13/7/1917 Unidentified 2 seater Out of control (shared) Lens
31 13/7/1917 Albatros D V Captured Croiselles
32 15/7/1917 Albatros D V Out of control Lens
33 16/7/1917 Unidentified 2 seater Out of control Gravrelle
34 20/7/1917 DFW C V Destroyed (shared) Lens
35 21/7/1917 Albatros D V Out of control E Oppy
36 22/7/1917 Unidentified 2 seater Out of control Rouvroy
37 22/7/1917 Albatros D V Out of control Lens
38 27/7/1917 Unidentified 2 seater Destroyed (shared) Loos
39 1/4/1918 Fokker Dr I Destroyed Oppy
40 6/4/1918 DFW C V Destroyed Lens
41 7/4/1918 Fokker Dr I Destroyed Violanes
42 9/4/1918 Albatros C Destroyed (shared) Givenchy
43 11/4/1918 Albatros D V Destroyed Bac St Maur
44 21/4/1918 Pfalz D III Out of control Bailleul
45 18/5/1918 Pfalz D III Out of control (shared) Neuf Berquin
46 22/5/1918 Albatros C Destroyed Mory-St-Leger
47 22/5/1918 DFW C Destroyed Morchies
Victories 1-4 were scored while flying a Sopwith Pup.
Victories 5-28 were scored flying Sopwith Triplanes.
Victories 29-47 were scored flying Sopwith Camels.
Little's score is recorded as at least 47 destroyed and out of control, plus many either forced to land or driven down. The most up to date research lists this as comprising 17 destroyed and 5 shared destroyed, one captured, 21 out of control and 2 shared out of control. These totals make Robert Alexander Little not only the highest scoring Australian ace of World War One, but also the highest scoring Australian ace ever as no one in any other war has achieved greater battle success.
 

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